Participants in the 2011 Bible Lands Study Tour sponsored by Campbell University Divinity School completed their visit to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan with a full day in Jerusalem before a late night, overnight flight back to the U.S.
The day began atop the Temple Mount, the 35 acre platform in the southwest corner of Jerusalem. The Temple Mount was home to Solomon’s Temple, which was destroyed in 586 B.C., and later to the Second Temple, which was rebuilt in 515 B.C. and expanded greatly by Herod the Great during the latter part of the first century B.C. That magnificent temple, the largest in the world at the time, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.
In the late seventh century, adherents of the fast-growing Muslim faith built the Dome of the Rock (also called the Mosque of Omar, left) and the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the same platform. Both were briefly turned into churches during the Crusader period, but reverted to their original purpose after Saladin re-conquered Jerusalem in the late 12th century A.D.
That 35 acres, we were reminded, is the most important plot of land in the world: the tenuous peace that keeps the Muslim Waqf in control of the Temple Mount, while some Ultra-Orthodox Jews push for the mosques to be destroyed and the temple rebuilt, is all that prevents the eruption of a worldwide jihad. It is no wonder that guides routinely encourage group members to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
From the Temple Mount, considered the third holiest site in Islam, we descended to the Western Wall, perhaps the most sacred site in Judaism. The Western Wall is a portion of a 150-foot-tall retaining wall built when Herod expanded the temple platform to make room for a more magnificent temple. Stone blocks in the wall weigh up to 500 tons, and were so carefully placed that the wall stands completely firm 2,000 years later.
Men and women must worship separately at the wall (men in the larger area, women in the smaller one). Several of our participants joined in the old custom of writing prayers and sticking them into cracks in the wall. Dr. Barry Jones joined those who study there by choosing a Hebrew Psalter from a book rack and reading prayerfully from it.
The area outside the southern wall of the Temple Mount has been extensively excavated in the past three decades, and has recently been opened for visitors. We sat in sight of the original southern steps that led to the Huldah Gate, which opened into a tunnel leading to the temple as guide Doron Heiliger explained the excavations, and Rick Hollings led us in a devotion.
Following a lunch break for falafel or schwarma, we visited the Yad VaShem, Israel’s impressive Holocaust Memorial. As always, participants were touched by the Children’s Memorial, where names of the 1.6 million children killed during the Holocaust are read aloud day after day.
Our last educational stop was at the Israel Museum, where group members viewed a huge scale model of Jerusalem as it would have appeared just before the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. A visit to the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept, concluded the day with a fitting reminder of the importance of scripture.
All in all, the tour contributed to all participants’ appreciation for the Campbell Divinity School’s statement of purpose, to be “Bible-based, Christ-centered, and ministry-focused.”
We left with a greater understanding of the Bible, of the significance of the Holy Land in global affairs, and with a renewed commitment to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, for in today’s religio-political environment, as Jerusalem goes, so goes the world.